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To play in 2014, Hardy needs trial to go forward

Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy is on a paid leave of absence tied to his pending his appeal of a guilty verdict in a domestic violence case. Chris Fialko, Hardy’s attorney, was initially pushing for that trial to be delayed into 2015.

But Hardy’s decision Wednesday to go on the commissioner’s exempt list likely has changed Fialko’s thinking dramatically, another prominent defense lawyer said Thursday.

Fialko declined comment, but George Laughrun, a veteran Charlotte attorney, said he’s certain Fialko has changed his stance.

“He’s going to be beating at the door saying, ‘We’re ready to go,’” Laughrun said. “I think the winds have shifted and he’s going to want to be, ‘Let’s go. We’re ready to try it next week.’”

In July, a Mecklenburg County District Judge found Hardy guilty in July of two misdemeanors for assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend. Hardy immediately appealed Judge Becky Thorne Tin’s decision, asking for a jury trial.

After Hardy’s jury trial was set for Nov. 17 during an August hearing, Fialko read a two-paragraph statement to reporters that questioned prosecutors’ ability to try Hardy’s case this year.

“I believe the state will try other, much older cases at the November date, and we will be assigned a jury trial date in 2015 once that master court calendar is published,” Fialko said at the time. “I do not think this district attorney will leapfrog Mr. Hardy’s case over the many other older ones where defendants and accusers have been patiently waiting for trial.”

Before deactivating Hardy for last week’s game against Detroit, the Panthers had said they and the league would wait until Hardy’s jury trial was resolved before taking any disciplinary action if Hardy was convicted.

That changed when Hardy went on paid leave. And with the Panthers (2-0) scheduled to play nine more games before Nov. 17, a change in legal tactics is necessary if Hardy wants to play again this season.

For that to happen, Hardy would have to be acquitted. And Fialko needs the trial to go forward on Nov. 17.

Meghan Cooke, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, said Thursday there are other cases in addition to Hardy’s scheduled the same week. Cooke declined to say how many trials are on the docket that week, and would not speculate on the likelihood Hardy’s case would be tried as scheduled.

Because of holiday breaks and a fall judges conference, Laughrun said Superior Court will be closed four of the final 11 weeks of the year. If Hardy’s case is not tried the week of Nov. 17, which is the Panthers’ bye week, Laughrun believes it won’t take place until next year.

Laughrun, who successfully defended former Panthers linebacker Jon Beason in a civil trial in 2011, said it’s highly unlikely Fialko would be able to get the trial expedited, which would require a judge’s order.

Laughrun said judges agree to change the dates of trials only in rare cases, such as when a witness who is leaving the country.

Having a defendant who’s an NFL player in the midst of his season clearly would not be sufficient reason, Laughrun said.

“The judge would say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Laughrun said. “They would laugh you out of the courtroom for that reason.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday he was confident Hardy would be back with the team this year. On Thursday Rivera said he was just being optimistic, and that he didn’t have any insights into Hardy’s legal proceedings.

“I know nothing of the timetable or anything like that. That’s just who I am. I just believe the process will take care of itself,” Rivera said. “Hopefully it works out in the right favor and it’s correct. And if so, then I believe he’ll be back.”